Cracks appear within Rouhani's inner circle as VP 'signals departure'

Speculations are once again rife that Iran's first vice president might be resigning after he complained about lack of authority.

al-monitor Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri speaks during a news conference after a meeting with Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Feb. 18, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani.

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tehran, resignation, hassan rouhani, reformists in iran, eshaq jahangiri

Oct 23, 2018

Iran's First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, who is said to be representing the Reformist camp in President Hassan Rouhani's administration, could be one step closer to resignation. The speculation gained momentum after Jahangiri broke his silence about his hands being tied. "To this moment, I haven’t had the power to dismiss my secretary let alone a minister," he said during a ceremony in Tehran Oct. 21.

The comment triggered "a massive quake" in Iran's political scene, raising the question as to what forced Jahangiri to "pour his heart out." According to the Reformist daily Arman, Jahangiri is rarely approached for consultation on important decisions; rather, it is another inner circle surrounding Rouhani that has the say and remains "reluctant to see Jahangiri play a role."

"If I was in his position where I had no authority to fire a secretary, I would not have continued to stay in the Cabinet one more day," said Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, an influential figure among Iran's pragmatists who is being blamed for indirectly crippling Jahangiri's powers. He denied, however, any knowledge about Jahangiri's potential departure. Yet Elias Hazrati, a leading Reformist parliamentarian, noted that the pace of events signaled Jahangiri's resignation.

In an Instagram post Oct. 22, Jahangiri defended the performance of Rouhani's first-term administration (2013-17), where he apparently enjoyed greater influence. "We managed to restore stability to the country's economy … and shift the international balance [in favor of Iran]. … I still stand for all those achievements." He made no mention of the current administration's (2017-) record.

Jahan Sanat, a daily that routinely criticizes the Rouhani government, also wrote on the resignation rumors, saying "Jahangiri has set off the alarms of departure." The paper referred to a recent meeting between Rouhani and Iran's top economists, where Jahangiri "was not let in" — interpreting it as Jahangiri's shrinking authority. The editorial accused a "triangle" within the administration of isolating Jahangiri. The key figure in that triangle is Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of staff, believed to be behind the major appointments and replacements. The paper then insisted that with "such a reduced position," it's high time that Jahangiri stepped down.

On the other hand, hard-line news agency Mashregh cast doubt on the possibility of Jahangiri's farewell. Citing analysis about his role in a key but failed government strategy aimed at containing Iran's troubled currency market in April, Mashregh suggested that Jahangiri's complaint was contradictory.

On social media, some argued that Jahangiri would be better off resigning to avoid further humiliation. "Although it's very late, he ought to leave this administration of hypocrisy today." There were also loud voices in his defense and against the president. One user wrote, "Rouhani must explain what is going on in his administration. How long is his close circle going to continue the horse-ride alone?!"

If Jahangiri's discontent suggested cracks among Iran's Reformists, another revelation the day after his Oct. 21 remarks marked even more serious differences on a larger scale inside the ruling elite. For years, institutions run by Iran's supreme leader have been blamed for exercising excessive authority and infringing upon the powers of sitting administrations. On this, Ezzatollah Zarghami, a conservative politician and former head of the state broadcaster, spilled the beans with a key revelation. "Some gentlemen had proposed that some institutions, such as those under the auspices of the supreme leader, take hold of the country's management," a request that Zarghami said was rejected by the supreme leader.

That probably happened during a certain period last summer when hard-liners openly exerted pressure on Rouhani to step down. Among them, Yahya Rahim Safavi, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who now serves as a military adviser to the supreme leader, was more than frank. "Sometimes it seems that without the government [of President Rouhani], the country will enjoy a better management," said Safavi, while a group of parliamentarians also turned up the heat by raising the debate on disqualifying Rouhani. 

Now, with the Jahangiri factor added to the equation, the question of who is doing what and who calls the shots in Iran's top management has once again come to the fore. At a time when Rouhani is being squeezed over several vacant ministerial positions in his Cabinet, the departure of Jahangiri is probably the last thing he needs.

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